Tesla employees who don’t return to work could lose unemployment benefits

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Furloughed Tesla employees who are called back to work could lose unemployment benefits if they choose to stay at home due to COVID-19 concerns, the company’s head of human resources Valerie Workman wrote in an email sent to workers Wednesday.

The internal email, which was viewed by TechCrunch, suggested that the loss of benefits was up to the state and that Tesla wasn’t penalizing employees for choosing to stay at home. CNBC was the first to report the email.

“Once you are called back, you will no longer be on furlough so if you choose not to work, it may impact your unemployment benefits as determined by your local government agency — and not by Tesla,” Workman wrote in the email. “We completely respect your decision and will support you, without any penalties from us.”

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said in internal emails to employees that if they feel uncomfortable returning to work, then they should stay at home. However, this latest email puts workers at a crossroads — return to work and risk contracting COVID-19 or stay at home and lose their unemployment benefits.

A screenshot of a portion of the email is posted below.

Tesla HR email

The email sent Wednesday provided an update to employees as Tesla prepares to restart production at its factory in Fremont, Calif. The factory has been a flashpoint in the debate over when and how businesses reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Musk has lobbed repeated criticisms at Alameda County and its health officials for extending a stay-at-home order to the end of May. Over the weekend, Musk threatened to pull Tesla operations out of the state and sue the county. Tesla filed a lawsuit against the county Saturday seeking injunctive relief.

Even as Musk publicly decried the county — going as far to tweet Monday that the factory was reopening in defiance of the stay-at-home order — negotiations between government officials and Tesla continued in the background. On Tuesday evening, Alameda County said that Tesla could reopen as soon as next week if it implements additional safety recommendations.

The statement from the Alameda County Public Health Department said that after receiving Tesla’s COVID-19 site-specific safety plan for its Fremont plant, officials “held productive discussions today with Tesla’s representatives about their safety and prevention plans, including some additional safety recommendations.”